On the Proper Use of Water

Not everywhere in the world do people have access to clean water. To change this, the United Nations has taken up the Sustainable Development Goal “Clean Water and Sanitation”. The professionals needed to achieve this goal gain their know-how in the masters course “Tropical Hydrogeology and Environmental Engineering” (TropHEE) at the TU Darmstadt.

The TropHEE scholars hail from every corner of the world © Centre for Educational Development /TU Darmstadt

The TropHEE scholars hail from every corner of the world © Centre for Educational Development /TU Darmstadt

Saudi Arabia brings desert and oil to mind. The fact that in the 1980s, this country was one of the world’s 10 largest exporters of wheat is little known. For this leading position, the nation on the Arabian Peninsula paid a high price. Despite severe drought, the wheat fields were irrigated with millions of litres of water. This emptied the aquifers, which had taken tens of thousands of years to fill, within a single generation.

First tests on campus
Cases such as this play a role in the Darmstadt Masters programme. The course investigates if and how much water can be used sustainably. The students frequently come from developing countries that have either too little water or water that is heavily polluted – sometimes both. “In the course, we equip students to develop suitable solutions”, says programme director Thomas Schiedek. This means some theory but also plenty of practical experience. In the project seminar, the hydrogeologists focus attention on their immediate environment, examining water quality at the Darmbach campus, for instance. “The students analyse water samples and assess the quality, while taking environmental influences into account”, says coordinator Silvia Faßbender. “In this way they learn not only various measurement techniques but also put the knowledge they gained in lectures to practical use.”

A TropHEE PhD candidate measuring the groundwater level during field work in Bangladesh © Suraiya Fatema

A TropHEE PhD candidate measuring the groundwater level during field work in Bangladesh © Suraiya Fatema

Other countries – other problems
Because each region faces different challenges in terms of water, field research is not limited to Germany but also takes the hydrogeologists to other countries, such as Greece. There, as in Saudi Arabia, water for agricultural use is pumped from wells – the difference is that near the coasts, the water table is replenished with saltwater from the sea. The result: soil salinization. Scholarship holder Zakia Sultana is familiar with this problem from her home country. “In Bangladesh, saltwater intrudes upon the groundwater”, she explains. “With my knowledge from TropHEE, I can work on a solution to this problem.”

The situation in Uganda looks much different. Like many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, it struggles with water shortage. TropHee has made inroads here, too. “In the module “Integrated Water Resources Management”, I learned how to use groundwater sustainably”, says Jacintha Nayebare from Uganda, who graduated with a master’s degree in Darmstadt back in 2013. “My knowledge helps me actively work toward making clean water and sanitation facilities available in lower-income areas.” Yayeh Desalegn, scholarship holder from Ethiopia, confirms this: “I know several TropHee alumni who work for the UNICEF programme WASH – Water, Sanitation and Hygiene – and thus contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal”.

More information on the degree course: http://www.trophee.tu-darmstadt.de

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